It’s easy to forget there is a Mad Men hierarchy.
Some characters just mean more than others. No matter how much you may love Joan, Pete, Betty or whomever, the show comes down to three people.
Don. Peggy. Roger.
That’s it, ballers. Everyone else — wives, boyfriends, office staff, clients -- is there to feed the beast of those three people and provide some level of distraction in the midst of the turmoil that is the lives of Don, Peggy and Roger.
You can have episodes that focus on some of the other characters — like last week’s intersection of Pete and Lane in office fisticuffs and Joan’s ongoing marital/mommy issues -- but make no mistake, those three people are Mad Men. They make it live and breathe. Maybe Matthew Weiner saw that dynamic spiraling out of control and out of his hands, so he gave us Sunday’s episode.
Frankly, we needed to be reminded that those three control the action and direction of the show. Mad Men has become such an incredibly consistent show that it just adds and subtracts characters like it’s a bodily function. All of them are extremely well-developed and fit right in to the story, so we become temporarily enamored with them. There’s nothing wrong with that, we’re supposed to feel for supporting players in a movie or TV show.
We love them so much that ESPN’s Grantland does a weekly Mad Men Power Rankings and give us an update on the stock of each character. The mere fact that the hierarchy, at times, is in question enough that Don, Peggy and Roger aren’t the three most important characters that someone would rank the characters week-by-week, means we needed to be reminded of who runs this show.
And that’s what we got last night. An episode fully devoted to the lives of our three most important characters and their crumbling lives and relationships outside the office.
PEGGY: One of the things I love about Thelma and Louise is the way director Ridley Scott completely strips the women of their femininity by the end of the movie. Their dress, their hair, their actions — their only choice to cope in a man’s world is to do everything they can to become one without growing a penis. Peggy Olsen still has her femininity intact. And in case you didn’t realize it, Mad Men gives you a shot of her in her slip. But we saw the first hints of Peggy’s masculinization when she took in the secretary and hard-balled Roger a couple weeks ago — she’s feeling alienated as a woman, almost resigned to knowing she has to become a man to have any modicum of success. She’s drinking more, smoking more, her boyfriend is accusing her of being the man of the relationship. She’s being stripped of her feminine qualities, not by choice, but because she thinks she has to if she wants to be a success and stick it to the men who keep telling her she can’t do it. Yet she’s still a woman, as evidenced by the Heinz guy treating her like a subordinate instead of an equal. We’ll probably be seeing more of her feminine qualities disappear by the end of the season.
ROGER: You can’t help but laugh at everything Roger says. It’s impossible. That makes it easy to mistake him for a boob or a buffoon, or someone there just to make us laugh amid the sometimes plodding pace of Mad Men. And maybe that’s what his biggest, general contribution to the show is when you get down to it. But he’s much, much more. He’s a man on his way out. He’s being forced to realize his age at home and at work. He’s being pushed to the professional brink by Pete. He’s getting ready to trade in his 30-year-old wife for what you would imagine is a 25-year-old, and had no interest in his 30-year-old wife’s friends until they pulled out LSD. But let’s hold the phone on that 25-year-old wife for a second and realize it can’t be a coincidence that both he and Joan have become single in the last couple weeks. That’s opening the door to him becoming a babydaddy to what we know to be his child with Joanie. And who knows what happens from there.
DON: Now here’s one thing we’ve never forgotten. Don Draper is the lifeblood of Mad Men. The show runs through him. Even as we watched the lives of Peggy and Roger, they still run through — and depend on — Don. Everything runs through him, he’s unquestionably the Alpha Male of the pack. Which is what makes it so jarring to see him being (rightfully) called out on what is now turning into a continual basis by his wife of a mere couple months. So it’s probably going to be even stranger when Megan finally fesses up, or wises up, whichever happens first, and tells Don she’s pregnant. How many subtle symptoms does she have to drop before Don starts thinking, “Wait, you’re tried, you can’t stand cigarette smoke, you’re getting nauseous, you’re otherworldly moody … I think I’ve seen this somewhere before!” It’s insulting to both of them. We’ve been conditioned to believe Don is the smartest guy in the room, and the only reason Megan is allowed to challenge him is because she’s the only one he he’s ever met that he considers his intellectual equal. And neither of them can put two and two together to figured out she’s knocked up? Cut to the chase guys. But feel free to do another dance-off.
EPISODE GRADE: A